El escondido: our folk dance finale!

Sole Avila was in charge for this last dance, as I have only danced it a few times. What a fabulous job she did! Thank you, Sole, for sharing your expertise with us and your dances! This whole series of lessons would have never happened if you had not come to my October chacarera class and asked, "When is the next one?"

Dance Chart

As usual, the chart makes more sense after learning the dance :-)

Dance videos

Video one: a nice performance, with the escondido starting at about 3:30.

Video two: a bit fancier footwork for you men.

Video three: a classic escondido tune and nice video, even though you can't see their feet all the time. I like it that they are having so much fun!

Video four: nice and clear, with no one in the way!


Music for dancing


Los Manseros Santiagueños- El Escondido

Escondido del amanecer - Los hermanos Toledo

Peteco Carabajal - Escondido en la alabanza starts at 39:48: If you look below the video part, each song on the album can be reached via the clickable list. VERY useful! Plus, I really love his music.

Escondido - Que siga el baile is accompanied by a very cute video of kids dancing.



El Chamamé

Growing up dancing polka and other Central European folk dances; then moving to Oregon and hanging out with a lot of Mexicans who danced; and then learning Argentine folk dances, you can see how many parts of the Americas received immigrants from the same areas of Europe.

Chamamé is a good example of this. To me, it is quintessential polka-like bar dancing :-)

Dance chart

This is the only dance we've learned that won't bring up a dance chart like the other three: if you can polka or waltz, you can chamame. I'll put up a few videos that show the variants we talked about in class. Really, I think we spent ten minutes teaching this dance (as opposed to more than an hour for zamba). All you tango dancers and folk dancers got in the spirit and went for it!

Dance videos

Do you want ALL the information about this dance? Here it is. Warning, it's about 20 minutes long!

Here's what we looked like, more or less.

This is my favorite, so far!

Did you want to see it with zapateo? Here it is!

Here's a video of a chamame festival, with comments by bystanders and dancers (in Spanish).


Go dance!




Music to dance

Kilometro 11: This is one of the songs we used for class.




Festivals: cabeceo or no?

Portland Tangofest starts in a few days, and the the topic of whether or not one should cabeceo  (inviting with a glance/head gesture, from some distance away) has reared its ugly head again.

Traditionally, cabeceo gave women a chance to have some power in the decision-making process of who danced with whom. If she didn't want to dance with someone, she could either avoid eye contact, or look at them, but not agree to dance. Because women traditionally didn't invite men to dance, looking available or not-available provided a measure of control over dancing with certain people.

For those of us who did most of our tango learning in Buenos Aires, cabeceo is what feels comfortable. I prefer cabeceo because, if I am having a conversation with another person, it signals to potential partners that I am busy at the moment. If I want to dance, I am looking around. Putting my cultural anthropologist hat on, I think you should follow the cultural rules that go along with traditional dances; or at least know what those rules are.

Cabeceo doesn't work as well in situations in North America because only some people have been trained how to do it; and others don't like the fact that the person being asked might indicate "no" and so use direct invitation to coerce those of us who tend to be too nice to say "no" when standing a foot away from someone. Also, if two women or two men are doing the inviting, the traditional roles don't necessarily fit. As a woman who leads, I have found it almost impossible to cabeceo women, unless they have spent some time in Buenos Aires. Also, many North American men are not comfortable maintaining eye contact long enough to actually ask someone to dance via cabeceo.

This makes for a very confused muddle at a festival. People from different towns have different conventions (traditional Argentine and very non-Argentine), which is even harder to figure out than usual.

Here is what I do at festivals. I stick to cabeceo with folks who know my preference. For people who walk up and invite me, I usually say yes, but then ask them to cabeceo me in the future. However, if I see a man or woman looking at me hopefully, but then looking away/down/etc. I may approach them and ask if they would like to dance. I will especially do this if they don't look familiar. Folks who are new often have not been taught how to cabeceo.

I'll be hosting the Friday afternoon milonga at Tangofest. In that situation, not only will I ask folks to dance; I will also drag people over and introduce them to new people. I see my role as hostess as a connector, helping cabeceo-impaired dancers to find happiness on the dance floor :-) I will see you there!

And tell me how you navigate Argentine custom and North American practices on the dance floor!


Celebrating Black History Month: The Roots of Tango

In honor of Black History Month, one of the parents at my son's school has been sending out emails about famous inventors and innovators who were African-American. I didn't know that Lewis and Clark's French translator was a slave named York. I didn't know that the first doctor to operate successfully on the human heart was African-American.  I didn't know that the imaging X-ray spectrometer was invented by a Black man named George Alcorn. Wow! Why do we only get taught about Rosa Parks and M.L. King, Jr.?

Tango's African roots often are ignored or downplayed in the same way. When I was researching my thesis on tango, only a few people even mentioned tango's non-European roots at all. I would like to include several summaries of work that I have not heard many tango dancers discuss. All of this information is from the articles noted below (not my own work!). I have left the citations in, so that you can follow up for yourself if this interests you. I will try to put more of these up for Black History Month.

Andrews, George Reid.  1980.  The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900.  Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

According to Andrews (1980), the milonga and the tango are elements of Argentine culture that demonstrate the contribution of African culture to Argentine culture (Andrews: 219).  The Afro-Argentines had a small presence in Argentina compared to other former slave-holding territories in the New World because the main products of Argentine (cattle and grain) required less manpower to produce than the cotton, sugar, and other products of other slave-holding areas.  However, the Afro-Argentine presence was much stronger than documented in Argentine official history.  In Argentina, class is stressed rather than race (Andrews: 215).  Thus, there has been an emphasis on tango developing in the lower classes, but the contributions of Afro-Argentines to this process has been significantly downplayed (Andrews:165).  

After the end of slavery, the African-Argentines worked mostly as manual laborers (dock workers, laundry women, construction workers) and crafts people (Andrews: 178).  With the immigration boom from  Europe in the mid-1800s came a decline in jobs available to Afro-Argentines because the immigrants would work for less money (Andrews 181-83).  Afro-Argentines switched over to the service sector, government jobs, and entertainment (Andrews: 184).  Relatively large percentages of musicians, dancers in the academias de baile, etc., were Afro-Argentine.  Therefore, they had a strong effect on the music and dance of Buenos Aires, and were key in the development of milonga and tango (Andrews: 184).

Both the new immigrants and the Afro-Argentines lived in the poorer areas of Buenos Aires.  There was a high rate of Italian-Afro-Argentine intermarriage, especially in La Boca (Andrews: 217).  The immigrants and the Afro-Argentines also mixed in the academias de baile.  In the 1870s, some dance hall owners sought to segregate dance space, but the liberal white press made such a commotion that the owners were forced to bow to public pressure and continue holding dances where black and white Argentines danced together (Andrews: 196-97).  This social mixing of cultures and races shows both in the people and the dances of those neighborhoods.

As Africans were brought to Argentina continuously until the end of slavery in 1807, African culture was continually influencing the Afro-Argentine community and culture.  The Afro-Argentine community was divided into social organizations that claimed connections to specific tribes and areas of Africa.  By the 1760s, the different nations were holding public dances, called candombes (Andrews: 157). 

The whites were aware that the candombes were occasions at which the Africans performed their national dances, calling up memories of their homeland and recreating, even if only for an afternoon, a simulacrum of African society in the New World. (Andrews: 162). These dances were banned in 1822, and reinstated in the 1840s and 1850s (Andrews: 160).  So many dances were hosted that the black press scolded the Afro-Argentine community for the amount of time and money spent on "frivolous" activities (Andrews: 189).

Until 1850, there were enough Africans to maintain separate dance traditions within these organizations.  Gradually, the traditions merged into a single Afro-Argentine dance form, the candombe (Andrews: 163).  Candombe "borrowed elements from a number of African dances" (Andrews: 163).  The dance consisted of four parts that featured lines of dancers (men and women) approaching each other, couple dancing (male/female), and exuberant solo dancing (Andrews: 163-64).  As late as the 1880s, there is documentation of candombe being danced (Andrews: 164). 

In the 1860s and 1870s, young Afro-Argentines "abandoned the candombe in favor of such imports as the waltz, schottishe, and mazurka" (Andrews: 195).  In reality, the music that was played for these dances still retained African elements.   However, these dances brought the dance embrace (man and woman touching) into the African mixture that already existed, and led to the development of the milonga.

The milonga grew out of the intermixing of the Afro-Argentines, the working class creoles, and the European immigrants in the academias de baile, or dance halls, of the working class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires (Andrews: 166).  These dance halls provided a social focus for poor neighborhoods where the various ethnic groups met to drink, gamble, and dance (Andrews: 166).  The milonga was a dance that the poor whites did to imitate and/or mock the candombe of the blacks (Andrews: 166).  However, the main elements of the dance were Afro-Argentine.  In 1883, a writer noted that "[milonga] has the same rhythm and movement as the drums of the candombe" (Andrews: 166).

As the tango developed out of milonga, its African roots are firmly established.  The first tango is said to have been written by an Afro-Argentine accordionist in 1896 (Andrews: 165).  The tango is a slower, smoother version of the milonga.

When the couple locks bodies tightly together and sways back and forth, we are seeing the lineal descendant of the first stage of the candombe, in which the swaying is interrupted by the bringing together of the bodies for the ombligada [touching of the navels].  Or when the partners move rapidly across the floor, first the male leaning back at a sharp angle, then the female, it clearly derives from the third stage of [candombe].  The steps of the tango form a kinetic memory of the candombe.  (Andrews: 166-67)



The gay milongas and the shifting of tango practice in Buenos Aires

Looking at my list of milongas, I thought I had remembered all the places I had visited. Then, last night, someone at the milonga asked me if I had led in Buenos Aires, and I realized that I had forgotten a venue: Tango Queer

For those of you who have read my thesis on gender roles and leading in Buenos Aires, you will understand both my excitement and my frustration at finding the Bs As tango scene changed. I studied the phenomenon of women leading in milongas, and wrote my thesis about dancers' views on gender roles, masculinity, femininity, and why women braved a lot of resentment to lead in traditional milongas.

What I found after studying the milongas in 1999, 2000 and 2001, was that a small percentage of women led in the milongas in order to attract foreign business possibilities; as the Argentine economy tanked, they needed a way out that was offered by tango. Couples had the upper hand, as foreigners assumed that both lead and follow roles could be taught; men had second place, as most people assumed that, if you could lead tango, you could teach how to follow it. Single women had to fight very hard to get invited to teach abroad on the merits of their tango technique because many dancers assumed that a woman would not be able to teach how to lead tango.

Now, in 2010, I saw NO women leading at traditional milongas. True, I did not visit ALL the milongas that exist. However, I attended several of the same milongas that used to have women leaders (1-2% in most milongas). Where did all those (fabulous) women leaders go? As far as I can tell they moved to a less stressful environment: the gay milonga.

A gay milonga in Buenos Aires means a gay-friendly milonga, but it might be more accurate to say a milonga with relaxed gender roles. Women lead women; women lead men; men lead men; and men lead women. Although I used to lead everywhere (and got in trouble with Tete for dancing with his girlfriend, Sylvia, at El Beso), I found that this time, I only led at Tango Queer.

If you are just learning to lead, you might consider attending the gay milongas: everyone is friendly, many dancers who are leading are not leading well, and there is an air of learning/experimentation that feels non-judgmental. One of my female friends from the USA who enjoys leading, attends many gay milongas because she feels that she gets to dance with a higher level of dancer than she does in the regular milongas. She also says the dancers at the gay milongas are more willing to dance with an older woman (and one who can lead well) than at other milongas.

Peru 571 was marked incorrectly in the milonga guide as Peru 71, so make sure you show up at the correct address! It's upstairs in San Telmo, with a pretty rugged floor (not as bad as La Catedral used to be--no actual holes), variable music quality/danceability, and a clientele that varies from raw beginners to BEAUTIFUL couples (one couple really stood out, with the best male follower I've seen out dancing in Bs As ever). This is a seat-yourself venue, so make sure the chairs you possess are not already claimed (I had to get mine back from an enterprising couple after a tanda).

Unless you are actually uncomfortable around same-sex tango dancing, go check out some of the gay milongas. Along with afternoon dances, the late night meat market scene, and neighborhood clubs, these are definitely a distinctive flavor of Buenos Aires tango.

Who’s Leading? Gender Role Transformation in the Buenos Aires Community

Many of my students have asked for access to my M.A. thesis on tango that I completed at the University of Oregon in 2002.  I had rewritten the first two chapters for use in my Dance and Folk Culture class at the University of Oregon when I taught in the dance department.  I have decided to put it up as a page (beware, it's long!) that you can find under my list of pages: go to the right column of my blog and you'll see it there.  If you are interested in the entire thesis (the rest of the work focuses on my fieldwork and the interviews I collected from tangueros in Buenos Aires), it is available for $15 from me, plus shipping if you live outside the Portland, OR area.